The Teaching Stars report by John Morris and Rose Patterson released earlier this year cast some concerns over the current state of teacher education in New Zealand. Among the observations was the suggestion that there is currently insufficient time in school-based practicums in teacher training courses. The minimum requirement is 14 weeks of in-school training, when international research suggests at least 20 weeks is optimal.
The report goes further – it recommends a more “clinical” approach is taken to teacher education, in which providers of graduate or postgraduate programmes could establish a network of partnerships with schools to allow teacher trainees to embark on a period of sustained professional practice during a two or three-week placement block.
The idea is underpinned by an approach recently implemented in Australia. However, a closer look at school and teacher education provider partnerships taking shape in New Zealand shows that we are already on our way to addressing this. However, are providers best to do their own thing, or could more be achieved through taking a united front?
Victoria University and Macleans College partnership
One provider-school partnership of note is that between Macleans College in East Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington, which Morris and Patterson mention in their report. The partnership, which began this year, provides a school-based teacher training programme for aspiring secondary school teachers. The trainees are based at Macleans College and have access to
Victoria University’s online Graduate Diploma in Teaching programme, including lectures and research. The in-school and online theory work complement each other.
They have major subject mentors and the programme includes classroom observation and then teaching. They complete a seven-week teaching practicum at Macleans and another seven weeks in another school.
There is, of course, more to being a teacher than classroom contact, and the programme helps aspiring teachers prepare for aspects of pastoral care and extra-curricular activities that are typically part of school life. As members of staff, aspiring teachers are part of a faculty, and will join one of the eight whānau houses in the school.
Byron Bentley, principal of Macleans College, says the partnership with Victoria University came about through a desire to see an “improvement in job-readiness of students graduating from teacher education programmes”.
“Through experiential learning and serving an ‘internship’, aspiring teachers graduating from a partnership programme will be more ready to meet the demands of teaching in a school as a first-year teacher. This should improve first-year teacher productivity as they will be better prepared for teaching from the day they commence working in their first full-time role.”
Bentley says the partnership is proving to be successful.
“The key success is that teachers are far more advanced in their ability to teach and manage a class of students than other aspiring teachers who have spent the year to date solely in a tertiary organisation before they embark on their first practicum in schools.”
Bentley says teachers who have come down this path tend to exhibit greater confidence when dealing with students, as they have been exposed to this on a daily basis while at Macleans College.
His evidence comes from comparing other aspiring teachers with those who are part of the Victoria/Macleans arrangement, as well as anecdotal evidence provided by the visiting lecturer from Victoria University.
“The routines and structures of school life are better understood by the Victoria/Macleans College aspiring teacher as they are living and breathing school life every day, including pastoral care responsibilities and involvement in the school’s extra-curricular programme.”
In addition to their time at Macleans College, the aspiring teachers will also have a seven-week practicum in another school during the year, which will serve to expose them to different students in a different setting.
Bentley is open to the possibility of implementing similar partnerships with other institutions, but with the proviso that the programme would have to be well-designed and would need to be a joint venture between the two organisations where there is shared responsibility for the learning undertaken by the aspiring teacher.
“The course would need to be designed to maximise the application of the learning occurring in the school environment. So, the partnership arrangement would need to ensure there is strong coherence between the academic theory and the application of this theory in the teaching in the classrooms of the partnership schools.”
ITE provider-school collaboration on the rise
Victoria University is not the only one to introduce more collaboration with schools in their teacher education programmes.
Massey University’s Institute of Education is also looking to increase collaboration with schools, through a pilot it is running this year. The project, funded by Ako Aotearoa, involves collaborating with schools as part of its teacher education programme. In addition to co-teaching, the project allows schools to have a role in co-constructing teacher education programmes. If successful, the pilot will extend to other schools to inform the design of Massey’s new Master of Teaching and Learning programme, due to be launched next year.
Alison Sewell, an initial teacher education programme co-leader at Massey, says the pilot – which is currently being run with College Street Normal School, Central Normal School and Palmerston North Intermediate – is proving to be very successful so far.
“The rationale is to bring together the theory and practice; to take the theory and observe how it is lived out in the school environment.”
Sewell says it is also helping to strengthen further the relationships between the university and the schools.
The University of Auckland is also offering a new teaching programme from July this year – Master of Teaching (Primary) – that will combine campus-based and school-based teaching and learning. Students of the programme will carry out their practical teaching experience with Learning Hub Schools. These schools will also enable a collaborative approach to the teaching of courses.
Waikato’s CUSP programme findings
The rationale for such approaches is supported by research undertaken at the University of Waikato. The research, led by Ann Harlow,
Bev Cooper and Bronwen Cowie, reflects on the university’s Collaborative University School Partnership (CUSP) programme for Initial Teacher Education (ITE).
The CUSP programme was grounded on the notion of bringing communities of teacher educators, teachers and pre-service teachers together to establish shared goals and processes to support pre-service teacher learning. Prior to the CUSP programme, microteaching episodes from the Faculty of Education and four-week practicums exposed a lack of connection between the placement and the practicum, and tended to be disruptive to schools. The faculty strived to collaborate with the local Normal schools to co-construct a more coherent and relevant practicum experience, and thus, CUSP was born. The programme involves first-year pre-service teachers being placed in pairs in one classroom for one day a week during the first semester and in a second classroom for one day a week in the second semester, followed by a three-week practicum.
The research found that the majority of pre-service teachers who had experienced CUSP placements and practicum in their first year felt this experience had helped them to feel confident about building relationships with children in the classroom, to be reflective about how children learn, to make connections between theory and the practice of teaching and learning and to develop a good understanding of what it means to be a teacher.
The research recommends the CUSP programme is continued, however it also identifies the importance of support from associate teachers and clarity around practicum expectations to enable student teachers to get the most out of the programme.
Separate models or centralised approach?
Perhaps such a “clinical” approach to school-based teacher education, as advocated in Teaching Stars, may not be warranted after all, with many providers demonstrating a move towards a more collaborative model anyway.
However, one repercussion of providers taking their individual paths is that it perhaps makes resourcing more difficult than if a more central approach was accepted by all.
PPTA president Angela Roberts expressed concern to the New Zealand Herald that increased teacher training in schools would require extra resources in schools, which could mean teacher trainees would possibly not be exposed to lower decile schools.
Massey Institute of Education director Sally Hansen says that there will be focus on priority learners, given the Ministry of Education’s emphasis on this area for new teacher education programmes. Consequently the institute will also look to partner with schools from a range of deciles.
Like Roberts, Hansen sees resourcing as the biggest challenge moving forward. Just as funding is of concern to the schooling sector, so too is the level of resourcing for the teacher education sector.
While the sector appears to be moving forward in the same direction in terms of providers’ collaboration with schools, perhaps there is room for more collaboration between providers. Certainly TEFANZ (Teacher Education Forum of Aotearoa New Zealand) is proving to be a useful medium for sharing best practice and advancing ideas; such a forum may help address the ongoing challenge of resourcing.